Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life. University of Illinois Press.
A Poet's Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov. University of California Press.
Last week amid the closing of the Olympics, the national debt, and the latest pop culture ‘news,’ this photo was published that encapsulates the volume of pain and suffering that is happening in Syria. For years, the conflict in Syria has gone through its ebbs and flows; it has been in and out of the media’s attention. Even though thousands of people have been displaced and families have been forced to eat animal feed, this is not worthy for American front-page news. Sadly, travesties around the world, or even in our backyard, are categorized as “out of sight, out of mind.” Too often we are consumed by other things than those outside of our limited purview.
When I saw the photo of the suffering of the Syrians, I was shocked; I was shocked that so many people were in line to get food, shocked that despite their best efforts there is not enough food to go around. I felt sad for the people who, by no fault of their own, live in a country that is being ravaged by war, violence, greed, and power struggles. I felt embarrassed for all of the times I whined and complained about my own “problems.” All of them collectively wouldn’t even begin to compare to what people are facing in Syria at this very moment. I wanted to find a way to do something, to raise my voice for them ... anything.
If there is indeed a “War on Christmas,” those on the anti-Christmas side of the war have lost — big time.
The television pundits, conservative politicians, and talk-radio loudmouths who believe there is a “War on Christmas” should look around, withdraw their troops, and quit screaming. Because if there is a war on Christmas, Christmas has won.
As Christmas approaches, tens of thousands of churches around the country are planning Christmas services and expecting packed pews. Their choirs are rehearsing Christmas music; and church members have taken the Nativity scene figures out of storage and put them on church lawns. Children costumed as kings and shepherds are learning to sing “Away in the Manger.”
Christmas cards with manger scenes are speeding around the country through the U.S. Postal Service or in the form of online animated greetings that play “Silent Night” and show the wise men following the star to Bethlehem.
I’d say the moment is ripe for “Christ in Christmas” — the real Christ, of course, who shunned the privileged and aligned himself with sinners and outcasts, whose heart went out to sufferers like the homeless of Rome whom a new pope risks serving.
I’d say the moment is ripe for new life being born in stables and forced to flee the powerful and greedy. We have seen Mammon’s insatiable maw, power’s absolute corruption of the human soul, and thugs murdering the many in order to protect the few — and we know our need of something better.
So, yes, it’s time for Christ in Christmas. Time for new life, time for hope, time for the faithful to say yes to God. Time for peace, not war. Time for repentance, not comfort at any cost. Time for justice and mercy and the even-handed goodness that God promised.
This, of course, isn’t what zealots mean when they vow to “defend” the faith from a culture’s “war on Christmas.” They want a free-fire zone where moralizers can denounce all but the like-minded, and churches with huge budgets can frighten or seduce worshippers into donor mode. They mean using Jesus’ name to impose the very cultural and political oppression that Jesus escaped once as a child but couldn’t escape as an adult.
If we're going to talk about food, we need to start with theology. Before chocolate was invented, a snake put "sinfully delicious" and "decadent" on the menu. Somebody fell for the marketing ploy, and we've had a complicated relationship with food ever since.
We've also had a complicated relationship with sex, and with siblings, and with weapons of mass destruction. It's all there in Genesis (where the WMDs are swords). And pretty soon, right-thinking people started coming up with rules to keep people from doing bad things. You can have sex with this person but not that one. You really shouldn't deceive, sell, or kill your brother. Beat your swords into plowshares.
The rules helped to restrain bad guys, and they gave would-be good guys some helpful pointers. Still, there were plenty of bad guys to go around, and good guys could get pretty anal about what other people should or shouldn't do. Anyway, it's obvious that you don't create a good marriage simply by avoiding sex with the wrong person, and you don't have a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner simply by not killing your siblings, and you don't banish war simply by wiping out as many weapons as possible. The rules are helpful — adultery, fratricide, and genocide are really bad ideas —but if you want a Peaceable Kingdom, you're going to need more than rules.
A huge statue of the Virgin Mary towers over churches, monasteries and mosques in the Syrian city of Maaloula, where a dialect of the Aramaic language of Jesus is still spoken.
The town has managed to stay out of the Syrian conflict between Sunni Muslim rebels and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, as have most of Syria’s 2 million Christians.
But worsening violence has forced the community into a corner: Continuous clashes between the rebels and the regime in this isolated town of 2,000 people as well as other Christian towns over the past two weeks have many Christians worried that they will no longer be allowed to stay neutral.
I wish that we, as a people, would speak better words to those who have served in our wars. I fear that we do them, and ourselves, a disservice when we call them all heroes without letting them decide which deeds were heroic and which should be left unspoken. When we call everyone who wears a uniform a hero, we diminish heroism everywhere.
I don’t mean we should refrain from thanking those who serve. If anything, we should thank them far more than we do, and our thanks should not just be in words. Our thanks should be sincere and long-lasting, and expressed in things like the best military hospitals we can afford, the best education we can provide, and our best efforts to ensure that their generation will be the last to endure what they have endured. Even if those ideals prove to be unattainable, we should not let that stop us from trying to attain them. As the Talmud says, “It is not your job to finish the work, but you are not free to walk away from it.”
Maybe you are like me and you need a bit of good news this week, because it’s been a week of bad news. There was the tragic shooting at the Navy Yard, leaving 12 people killed. Then there were the racist comments about the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri. She is the first person of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America, yet the news of the event emphasized racist tweets. It was almost as if people were competing over who could be the most racist: Some referred to her as “the Arab,” and other tweets claimed, “this is America, not India,” and one even called her “Miss 7-11.” Not to mention the continuing escalation of tensions throughout the world involving Syria.
It was a depressing beginning to the week. I mimetically absorbed much of this violence, hatred, and racism. Misanthropy settled into my soul and I began to loathe myself and the entire freakin’ human race.
But then I saw this video of Beyoncé performing in Brazil, and my hope in humanity was restored.
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country's 'false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.
As President Barack Obama prepared to address the nation on Tuesday evening to articulate a plan for intervention in Syria, NBC rushed to assure its viewers that the Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show, The Million Second Quiz, would not be interrupted. As detailed by the network, the president would speak for only 15 minutes, thus viewers could watch their televisions with full confidence that the entirety of the hyped-up program would be fully protected. While there was suspense as to whether NBC would follow through on its promise of an unbroken telecast, the presidential coverage stayed within the agreed upon time slot, viewers were able to watch their regularly scheduled program, and all was well in the world.
In the meantime, all is not well in the world.
I have read countless articles from political, religious, and ethical perspectives on why or why not the U.S. should militarily intervene against the Syrian regime. Most do a decent job evaluating the situation, but I have yet to read one that really puts the human element on the table as a deciding factor.
A few months ago I was going to bed in my hotel room in Tel Aviv when I saw the breaking news alert that there was rocket exchange between Hamas and Israel in and around Gaza. While I have been to many places in "conflict," there is something much different about being somewhere that is only miles away from live fire.
I started playing out the situation in my head: "What if this expands into a major conflict? Can I catch a flight back home to be with my family before it gets worse? I'm only 30-40 miles away from the active conflict, am I already in range sitting in this hotel room?"
Anxiety. Fear. Uncertainty.
Now let me be clear, that experience of anxiety and fear is NOTHING compared to what most Israeli's, Palestinians, Egyptians, or Syrian's have felt in recent years (and MANY other populations). But — even if only in some small way — I could immediately feel the weight of pending war. It is palpable. It is crippling. And if I had my family with me, it would have potentially been unbearable.